Ministry via New Technology
|The Rev. William T. Chaney Jr. uses his blog for "Making Disciples One Relationship at a Time." Photo by Kate Thomas.|
Creates Old-Time Feelings
By Kelly C. Martini
When visitors enter West Baltimore United Methodist Church, they're often coming to see the blogger.
A blog is an online journal. A blogger is the person who writes it for the world to read.
The Rev. William T. Chaney Jr., pastor of the Maryland church, is one United Methodist blogger who discovered that the Internet can be a nonthreatening evangelism tool. On his blog, "Making Disciples One Relationship at a Time" (makingdisciples.wordpress.com), Chaney journals, reflects and theologizes. It's personal, and it's an open invitation.
In one blog, he describes a struggling community in his midst and almost screams across the computer:
"Where is the outrage? Where is the talented tenth? Where are the churches who care about the lost, the left out, the marginalized and the oppressed?"
His opinions express his worldview and who he is, he confesses to potential church visitors.
"Look at my blog, see what I'm about, and then come back," he says frequently to people he meets.
And they do. They e-mail, come to church or begin online or live discussions.
"John Wesley said the whole world is my parish. If I'm going to be relevant to my community in the 21st century, I have to use the tools they do," Chaney says, encouraging people to look around them. People are using technology in every aspect of their lives -- for research, for communication, to build social networks. They use cell phones, BlackBerrys, e-mails, instant messaging, Web sites, iPods, blogging and vlogging (video journaling).
Chaney's theory is that pastors can evangelize in the new world with four things: a Web site, e-mail blasts, a social network and a blog. Then, he said, the church can reach the unchurched.
He admits though: "My theory may work, but it's time-consuming."
United Methodist missionaries to Cameroon, Wes and Leah Magruder (www.preachpeace.blogspot.com) agree. They use a blog to communicate with supporters and colleagues around the globe.
|Thirteen-year-old Rachel Magruder holds a child at a village orphanage in the Central Province of Cameroon. Her parents' blogs tell stories of their ministry as missionaries. Courtesy photo.|
Ever consider what it would mean for The United Methodist Church to be a truly global church? Did you know that the church in Cameroon is involved in AIDS ministry, women's ministry and that the youth ministry takes a break for cocoa farming? It's in the Magruders' blog.
"It's the best way to communicate the work of the mission to our friends, families and supporters back home," Wes Magruder says. "We try to let people know how we, as a family, are doing. But more importantly, we try to tell the story of the mission.
"As much as possible, I try to put the story of ordinary Cameroonians onto the blog. We're a global church, but it's hard to understand what that means until you start becoming acquainted with Methodist Christians from around the world. I believe that mission will save the American church from itself, and hopefully, our blog can be a step in the right direction."
The Magruders' small but loyal readership ranges from mission supporters to Sunday school students who use the blog as discussion fodder.
Technology for All
|Joon Kim teaches residents of Asbury Methodist Village new computer skills and ways to take full advantage of the World Wide Web. Courtesy Asbury Methodist Village.|
The church often struggles out loud, reminiscing about the days when a congregation was like a family, caring and supporting one another in the name of the greatest caregiver, Jesus Christ.
As society has changed with the influx of technology, it has been accused of leaving behind that part of the population that either has no access or has not been educated on the nomenclature and technicalities.
How does the church cross this chasm?
Grayson (Ga.) United Methodist Church crossed it creatively and simply with telephone technology. Software, bought in part with a grant from the General Board of Discipleship, allows the Grayson staff to program members' names and phone numbers into a database and then to highlight who is to receive specific calls, and when.
The software provides members with weekly phone calls with prerecorded devotionals, announcements, prayer requests and opportunities for seniors.
"Most seniors are already churchgoers, but most church programs are not geared to them. We decided that it's crucial to keep programs going with seniors and to create newer ones," says Steve Sheppard, minister of music and seniors, who spearheaded the project.
"The newer phone software offers you options on follow-up," Sheppard says. Listeners can press 1 if they have a prayer request, 2 if they would like a pastoral visit, 3 for an urgent request and so forth.
The Rev. Phil Schroeder, senior pastor, says the weekly calls help recreate the smaller, tight-knit communities of the past when the congregation was family and cared for its seniors accordingly.
"In a time when people feel more and more isolated and live further away from family, we need to make every effort to foster a sense of community and care. I hear the echo of Psalm 71:9, 'Do not cast me off in the time of old age; do not forsake me when my strength is spent,'" he says.
Asbury Methodist Village in Gaithersburg, Md., knows that seniors often want to learn about the new technologies. All they need is education and access.
|Production rolls on an episode of "Asbury View." Courtesy Asbury Methodist Village.|
After video production and photo software training from their station manager, Joon Kim, seniors write and produce their own television show, "Asbury View," which has weekly guests ranging from physicians to politicians. They communicate about issues important to the seniors and produce Village news, pastoral thoughts for the week and other segments. This program has received several National Mature Media awards.
Kim trains seniors on basic computer and word processing skills and Web browsing, but the most popular technology training is video creation. Many seniors learn video and photo editing software so they can put their home videos and family photos on DVD. Others use the tools to connect with grandchildren.
"It keeps them very active, and they're intrigued by the video editing, because whenever you're dealing with video, it's exciting," says Kim.
Web sites, E-mails and Podcasts
The Find-A-Church Locator at www.umc.org can help anyone find a church within a given area. A user picks the area and the radius of the search. The Web page comes up with all the churches within a 10-, 20- or 50-mile radius with contact information and links. It's the responsibility of local churches to use the technology to attract visitors. Many do it.
For seekers, local church Web sites post directions, schedules, church news and sermons.
Forward-looking churches are videocasting or audiocasting weekly sermons, e-mailing daily devotions, creating online message boards and connecting people to the larger church and resources.
The Iowa Conference youth site links teens to creative ministries of the denomination including blogs, videos, scholarship information, discussion groups and items to download to the iPod. One of the links is to the General Board of Discipleship's "Young People's Ministries" Web pages (www.gbod.org/youngpeople).
Members of United Methodist Women (gbgm-umc.org/umw) use e-mail groups to create a supportive community. Close to 300 members across the United States pray for each other and their concerns, share ideas for mission and support each other. Many local UMW units have developed their own e-mail groups.
The global church has also used technology in evangelization and ministry.
The Methodist Church of Sri Lanka (www.gbgm-umc.org/methchsrilan) puts devotional materials online, reports on its ministries and links to an audio version of the Bible. In June, they discovered a way to remember Wesleyan history using global technological connections.
Sunil Warnakulasuriya, a Methodist lay preacher, Sunday school teacher and musician in the city of Moratuwa, Sri Lanka, is from one of the 143 Methodist churches in the country.
Moratuwa suffered devastation from the 2004 tsunami, but still wanted to celebrate Methodist Day and the 300th anniversary of Charles Wesley's birthday this summer.
"Mr. Warnakulasuriya found his way to our worship and music Web pages and found a number of items he would use," said the Rev. Dean McIntyre, director of music resources for the Board of Discipleship. "In ongoing contact with him, we have been able to provide additional resources he (and the rest of the church) can use."
The church's Methodist Day celebration emphasized children leading in worship. Warnakulasuriya "saw this as an opportunity to teach and nurture them," McIntyre continued.
A little over a decade ago, the process would have taken much longer Ð and might not have even happened.
|Intern Alexis Miller and the Rev. Max Marble edit a Missouri Conference Missioncast.|
A year ago most people hadn't heard of Youtube.com, the Web site where anyone can post a video. Now it is a way to make or break political candidates, advertise without payment or delve into personal lives of public stars. But the Missouri Conference asked, why not use the technology for mission and ministry?
Log onto www.momissioncast.com, and Alexis Miller, summer intern in the conference's Office of Creative Ministries, will tell you that by the end of her mission video cast, "Nothing But Nets," four children will have died from malaria.
"Malaria is the leading cause of death of children in Africa," she tells anyone who watches, and simple mosquito nets can save lives.
Another Missouri "vlog" -- or video diary -- targets youth interested in hands-on mission. It tracks Ryan Oetting, president of the conference council on youth ministry, as he leads a youth work camp in Caruthersville, Mo. He is a member of First United Methodist Church in Sikeston, Mo.
A variety of vlogging youth talk about their day, which begins at 6 a.m. They reflect, report and even decompress on their personal encounters when rebuilding people's homes that were leveled by a tornado.
The Rev. Max Marble, director of the creative ministries office, says the MissionCast isn't part of his job description, but it's a passion. He spends up to 12 hours of personal time weekly creating the Web casts.
The idea grew out of an exercise at the West Gulf Regional School of Christian Mission, when the teacher asked the group to "jot something down on paper that we would follow through with when we left," he says. "I put down that I would develop video mission minutes for our conference."
It didn't happen immediately, but the teacher followed up, prompting MissionCast creations.
Some churches use MissionCast every Sunday; they are available for download or podcasters. Other churches and institutions want to be featured as part of MissionCast.
"The church needs to be up-to-date in the technology area in order to keep the gospel speaking to today's world," Marble says.
--Kelly C. Martini, freelance writer, Glen Mills, Pa.
TO LEARN MORE
West Baltimore United Methodist Church | 5130 Greenwich Ave. | Baltimore, MD 21229 | (410) 945-8397 | firstname.lastname@example.org | makingdisciples.wordpress.com | Average attendance: 76
Grayson United Methodist Church | 555 Grayson Parkway | Grayson, GA 30017 | (770) 963-2944 | email@example.com | www.graysonumc.org | Average attendance: 572
Asbury Methodist Village | 201 Russell Ave. | Gaithersburg, MD 20877-2801 | (301) 216-4100 or (800) 327-2879 | firstname.lastname@example.org | www.asburymethodistvillage.org
Missouri Conference Office of Creative Ministries | 3009 David Drive | Columbia, MO 65202 | (573) 474-7155 | email@example.com| www.umocm.com
Try the new 'Orange Float'
"Orange Float" is the name for the new Igniting Youth interactive Web site that invites teen seekers into the life of The United Methodist Church. The URL www.orangefloat.org beat out other nominees as more than 2,000 teens voted during Youth 2007 in July in Greensboro, N.C.
Susan Crawford, director of Igniting Youth for United Methodist Communications, said "Orange Float" captures the homepage's "constant floating movement."
The new site "is a tool for local churches to reach out in their community and put this URL on their invitations for teen seekers looking for more information," Crawford said.
Read more about the site in the July/August edition of Interpreter.
Excerpted from a United Methodist News Service story by Linda Green.